What is the "Sanctuary City" project?

Sanctuary City.jpg

       A sanctuary city means a municipality with “access without fear” policies for undocumented (non-status) people. It is a city that is welcoming to all people regardless of their immigration status and recognizes that non-status people are part of the economic, social, and cultural fabric of the city. Sanctuary cities in Canada include Toronto, Hamilton, London, and Vancouver, with many more seeking the declaration. In the US, there are many sanctuary cities, with Chicago and San Francisco among the leading cities on implementation. There are 2 main features of any sanctuary city: 


  1. That there is no requirement to have immigration status (a visa, PR or citizenship) to access any city administered services or those that receive municipal funding. 


  1. That staff or volunteers of the City in any City administered service, including police, will not report someone’s immigration status to federal authorities, namely the Canada Border Services Agency, which would result in detention, then (could lead to) deportation.

Is a sanctuary city safe?


       Providing better access to services for undocumented people and assurances against reporting them to the CBSA has no bearing on safety for the community. The fact that someone is undocumented only means that they are without immigration status. All non-status people have their own unique stories of how they arrived in their position, which almost never involves any elaborate design to evade immigration law. Non-status people who chose to remain in Canada have simply made Canada their home. They have families, friends and are part of the fabric of our communities. They do not want to lose their communities, nor do their communities want to lose them.


       We should not be assuming anyone is dangerous simply based on who they are or where they are from. Unless there is some evidence to show someone is harm or has ill intent, it’s better for our collective well-being to assume people mean well. If someone is without status and is charged with an offence under the Criminal Code (meaning there may be a safety issue), or under with any provincial or federal statutory offence, they will be processed just like anyone else. There is no reason to fear someone only because of their immigration status or lack of it. Strong communities and cities are those where people trust each other. 


       There are strong reasons to suggest that sanctuary cities are safer for all due to better assurances that undocumented people can contact the police without fear of deportation. With assurances that they will not be reported to the CBSA for simply calling the police for their assistance, a non-status person who is a victim or a witness can feel more secure in contacting the police to report on a crime, such as a domestic violence complaint. Furthermore, if a non-status person is stopped by the police for a municipal or provincial statutory offence, it does not trigger an obligation to report the person to the CBSA. The City of Fredericton’s strategic document, Summary of Program: Request for Results, states the following policy under its strategy for a “safe and secure community”:


Public Safety members communicate with the public to build trust, mutual respect, and public confidence. The objective is to facilitate open communication around safety concerns and provide education programs that help prevent fires and reduce crimes.


       Building confidence of non-status people in public safety and security requires that they can trust those charged with administering these objectives, particularly the police.  If non-status people are afraid of ever coming in contact with the police, this policy objective is failing them. 

Sanctuary cities uphold the highest human rights standard for non-status people


       Denying services on account of a person’s country of origin is discriminatory and contrary to equality protections in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and provincial human rights law. Immigration status is a small step away from this constitutional standard and is likely to be added as a Charter ground of discrimination in the near future. There is no reason to wait for the requirement to include such protections. Cities in Canada should strive to uphold the highest standards through proactive actions. The City of Toronto, in their efforts to implement access without fear policies, called for the inclusion of immigration status in the protections under the City’s Human Rights and Anti-harassment/Discrimination Policy.


       In order to be consistent with the protections against discrimination due to immigration status, it is important to ensure that services are not being denied due to a person’s immigration status, including access to police services. Someone can be denied access to services both directly or indirectly. Indirect denial can include a rational fear that the consequences of accessing services will be a report to the CBSA and deportation. Both these problems can be confronted with robust policies and regulations against discrimination based on immigration status. 


Why should Fredericton be a sanctuary city? Does this matter in Fredericton?


       In 2007, the RCMP estimated that there were between 200,000 – 500,000 undocumented people in Canada. Media reports today have used the same numbers. No doubt, there are people in Fredericton and NB who are undocumented. As well, Fredericton has demonstrated its intent to be a destination for people immigrating or otherwise settling in Canada. Fredericton took in more Syrian refugees per capita than any other city in Canada during the expedited Syrian refugee program in 2015 - 2016. As well, New Brunswick and the other four Atlantic Provinces are currently in a pilot project with the federal government to increase their immigration. If we want people to stay here, Fredericton needs to be more welcoming, ensuring better access to services. Fredericton already has numerous international students, visitors, and workers on temporary permits arriving any given year, who may lose their status. According to the Solidarity City Network in Toronto, which has helped to develop Toronto’s Access without Fear policy, there were approximately 775,000 people with precarious status in Canada in 2012. Why should people with a precarious status stay in Fredericton, rather than go to a sanctuary city such as Toronto, Vancouver or Hamilton, where the potential loss of status comes with less risk? 


       Other cities are already at various stages of the implementation of sanctuary city policies. They have done so with the understanding that it is not only a good idea to implement access without fear policies, but that the idea is based on sound legal principles that recognize immigration enforcement as a federal power. The access without fear policies of sanctuary cities should be considered a best practice when undocumented people are concerned.  The City of Fredericton’s strategic document, Summary of Program Request for results, states the following objective under “governance and civic engagement”: 


       The staff ensures that the Council has competent professional and technical advice to make decisions, including legal advice to ensure that bylaws, policies, and decisions comply with federal, provincial and municipal laws. Compliance with federal laws includes respect for jurisdictional boundaries. 


Graham Hudson, Idil Atak, Michele Manocchi & Charity-Ann Hannan, “(No) Access T.O.: A Pilot Study on Sanctuary City Policy in Toronto, Canada”, RCIS Working Paper No. 2017/1, at 24, online: http://www.ryerson.ca/content/dam/rcis/documents/RCIS%20Working%20Paper%202017_1GHudsonFinal%20.pdf

The city of Vancouver, “Policy Report, Social Development: Access to City Services Without Fear for Residents With Uncertain or No Immigration Status”, April 6, 2016, online:  http://council.vancouver.ca/20160406/documents/pspc3.pdf 

Appendix A, p. 3, p. 17.

The Constitution Act, 1982, Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11, s. 15. See also Human Rights Act, RSNB 2011, c 171

Hudson, supra note 1, at p. 5.